Located in Houston, the Todd Houston Shipbuilding Corporation began as a modest shipyard, devoted to the construction, repair, and restoration of many different types of marine vessels. But as World War II dawned, the facility expanded dramatically to meet the increased needs of the United States Navy, which called on all shipyards throughout the country to increase development and capacity to serve the war effort.
Initially, Todd Houston Shipbuilding was developed with funds from the United States Maritime Commission to build merchant ships.
The first ship Todd Houston workers built under the commission contract was the “Sam Houston,” which was completed in less than a year. During the war years, the shipyard built 208 Liberty ships, earning it sixth place in terms of output among 17 similar yards. Each ship took an average of nine weeks to build, an amazing record. After building the Liberty ships, Todd built 14 T-1 tankers.
At the peak of its production, Todd Houston Shipbuilding Corporation employed more than 23,000 men and women. Like all shipyard employees, these workers produced a phenomenal amount of work in all kinds of weather and work conditions. And, like all shipyard employees who worked in shipyards prior to the mid 1970s, the men and women at Todd Houston Shipbuilding Corporation were exposed regularly to the health dangers that came with working day in and day out with asbestos-laden products.
As a readily available, inexpensive silica-based mineral, asbestos seemed to have a wealth of attributes to offer the manufacturers of ship components. From engine and propulsion system parts to gaskets and valves to floor and ceiling tiles to sprayable insulation and waterproof coatings, the use of asbestos in marine products was endemic. The reason for its use seemed clear: asbestos offered manufacturers high resistance to heat and corrosion, flexibility, and high tensile strength, all extremely important considerations in the manufacture of the materials and parts used in the building and repair of marine vessels.
But what asbestos offered those involved in the manufacture and ultimate use of these products was a serious health risk that would last a lifetime.
During cutting, drilling, and other manipulation in the building and repair processes, asbestos sheds millions of tiny fibers in an airborne dust that can easily be inhaled or ingested. Once in the body, asbestos can cause potentially deadly health conditions, including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.
In some individuals, symptoms of malignant mesothelioma may not appear for decades after exposure. If you worked for the Todd Houston Shipbuilding Corporation, you should discuss your own personal risks associated with possible exposure to asbestos as mesothelioma navy cases are most common.